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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


d'URVILLE, Jules Sébastien César Dumont


Maritime explorer.

A new biography of Dumont d'Urville, Jules Sébastien César appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Jules Sébastien César Dumont d'Urville was born on 23 May 1790 at Condé-sur-Noireau, a village in Normandy, France. His father was Gabriel François Dumont, sieur of Urville and an hereditary Judge; his mother, née Jeanne de Croisilles, was of a noble French family. The d'Urvilles, because of their aristocratic connections, took refuge after the French Revolution in a secluded part of Normandy. Here, after the death of his father, Jules was educated by his mother's brother, a churchman of wide learning. Later he attended the Lycée Malherbe at Caen. In 1807 he entered the Navy. A student by talent and inclination, he devoted himself to learning, both in the humanities and natural sciences. In 1815 he married. In 1820, while on a visit in a French naval vessel to the eastern Mediterranean, he was instrumental in procuring for France a Greek statue which had been found on Melos – the Venus de Milo.

On 18 August 1822, d'Urville, then a lieutenant, sailed from Toulon on the Coquille as second in command under Louis Isidor Duperrey on an extended voyage round the world, returning to Toulon on 24 March 1825. The Coquille was at the Bay of Islands from 20 March to 17 April 1824.

On 25 April 1826, d'Urville, with the rank of commander, sailed from Toulon as chief of the former Coquille, renamed Astrolabe, on a voyage of exploration and scientific inquiry which lasted till 24 March 1829. On 10 January 1827 the Astrolabe came in sight of the north-west coast of the South Island. On 14 January the ship passed the entrance to the modern Golden Bay, which had been visited by Tasman. The ship anchored off the west side of Tasman Bay. This bay had not been investigated at close quarters previously. In the following days d'Urville established that it was a great deal bigger than Cook's mapping indicated, and his officers surveyed and charted it. Adele Island, Pepin Island, and Croisilles Harbour are modern names derived from those given by d'Urville. On 23 January d'Urville made for a channel which he had noticed at a distance some time before, and which seemed to him to communicate between Tasman Bay and Cook's Admiralty Bay. This was the channel culminating in French Pass and dividing D'Urville Island from the mainland. Lottin and Gressien, two of d'Urville's officers, on the same day saw the pass at close quarters from two of the ship's boats. On 25 January d'Urville went through the pass into Admiralty Bay in a ship's boat. On 28 January the Astrolabe made the hazardous passage into Admiralty Bay. The investigation of Tasman Bay and the discovery of French Pass and the insularity of D'Urville Island were significant contributions by d'Urville to the discovery of New Zealand's coasts.

From Cook Strait d'Urville went north along the coast to Whangarei Harbour, which was surveyed and charted on 21–23 February 1827. The Astrolabe then doubled back to Hauraki Gulf, passing between the main coastal islands on the west side of the gulf on 25–27 February. The Astrolabe had been preceded in this passage by the Prince Regent in 1820, but the surveys and charts made under d'Urville's command were notable contributions to the cartography of New Zealand's coasts. Lottin crossed the isthmus on 26 February and made a survey of Manukau Harbour, discovered in 1820 by Samuel Marsden. From Hauraki Gulf d'Urville proceeded to North Cape and then to the Bay of Islands, quitting the New Zealand coast in March 1827.

Following on his return to France in 1829, d'Urville was promoted to the rank of post captain. The years from 1829 to 1837 were spent in naval duties and literary and scientific writing. d'Urville busied himself with the publication of the many volumes and albums of the records of his voyage entitled Voyage de la Corvette L'Astrolabe. The second and third volumes deal in detail with the geography, history, science, and ethnology of New Zealand, enriched by many details from d'Urville's own observations.

In 1837 d'Urville was appointed as commander of an expedition consisting of the Astrolabe and the Zéle on a voyage to the Antarctic and the Pacific islands. This lasted from September 1837 until November 1840, during which time d'Urville made two trips to Antarctica, the most notable of his explorations being that of Adelie Land early in 1840. On 25 February d'Urville left Hobart, and between 7 March and 4 May 1840 was again in contact with New Zealand's coasts. He visited the Auckland Islands, passed the Snares and Stewart Island at close quarters, and spent some time in Otago Harbour, Akaroa Harbour, and the Bay of Islands. He and his officers recorded many interesting observations of these places at that time.

d'Urville, on his return to France, was promoted to rear-admiral, and belatedly received recognition of his outstanding services to exploration and science. On 8 May 1842 he and his wife and child were killed in a railway accident near Paris.

Jules Sébastien Csar Dumont d'Urville was a man of impressive talent both in navigation and in learning. He made notable contributions to New Zealand exploration, particularly in the Tasman Bay – French Pass area, and to the detailed cartography of New Zealand's coasts in conjunction with his officers. Both he and his officers made valuable records of the contemporary history, scenery, ethnology, and botany of New Zealand.

by Charles Andrew Sharp, B.A.(OXON.), M.A.(N.Z.), Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Voyage de la Corvette L'Astrolabe, d'Urville, J. S. C. Dumont (1830–35)
  • Voyage au Pole Sud, d'Urville, J. S. C. Dumont (1842–46)
  • New Zealand 1826–1827 (Biographical Sketch), Wright, O. (1950).


Charles Andrew Sharp, B.A.(OXON.), M.A.(N.Z.), Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.